College expedition team treks its way to the roof of the world

The Northumberland Collage team with Stok Kangri in the background.
The Northumberland Collage team with Stok Kangri in the background.
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HE hopped over crevasses on a glacier at night, dodged killer snowstorms and walked uphill for a full week — but with a 20,000ft high vantage point, Kirkley Hall tutor Carl Halliday had a view to die for.

And the 40-year-old, from Alnwick, was rewarded with perfect, clear skies when he reached the summit of Stok Kangri, following his trek through the Himalayas.

For 90 minutes, he was able to gaze out over the mountain range — dubbed the ‘roof of the world’ — with an unobstructed panorama across Tibet, China and Pakistan, including K2, the second-highest peak on Earth, in the distance.

Carl led a 10-strong expedition team consisting of tutors, current and past students from Northumberland College, where he is an outdoor education tutor at the Kirkley Hall campus.

As well as teaching a range of outdoor industry qualifications, he initiated the trek, which involved months of careful planning.

The group flew out to the Ladakh region of northern India, staying in the capital Leh, where they made final preparations for the long journey ahead, culminating in the ascent of Stok Kangri.

At 6,153m, it is a metre higher than sticking Ben Nevis on top of Europe’s highest summit, Mont Blanc in France.

Carl said: “The 10 days of acclimatisation before we started the trek had been important and necessary as some people struggled with the attitude and with stomach upsets in the first week. Treating the mountain with respect and taking our time to acclimatise properly through progressive training walks was, I believe, a key factor in the whole team reaching the summit.

“We reached Stok Kangri base camp, which is at 5,000m, on day six of our trek, after crossing the Zanskar river in a Himalayan river basket, dodging a couple of days of big mountain storms and crossing two passes of almost 5,000m.

“We left base-camp for the summit at 1am on day seven and were hopping over crevasses on the glacier at 3am with head-torches. We made the final ridge as the sun came up and were treated to spectacular views from the summit at 7am.

“It is important to set off this early on summit day, as the snow slopes become unstable and there is increased risk of rock-fall in the afternoon sun.

“There was an amazing panoramic view of the Himalayas of Tibet, China and Pakistan, including K2 in the distance. We had been incredibly fortunate with the weather. This was the first clear summit day in over a week and the following night the tops were shrouded in cloud again.

“We made the most of the weather and stayed at the summit for an hour-and-a-half, reflecting on our achievements and taking our individual and group photos, before starting our descent. After heading back down the steep ridge, we negotiated the glacier again and were back to base camp before midday, where we ate and slept.

“We walked out on day eight and returned to the relative luxury of our guest house in Leh. Two days after we were back in Leh, a huge storm moved in and the snow-line dropped to 5,000m, pinning people into their tents for days at base camp.”

Carl added: “It was quite emotional on the summit and I think people were surprised by how much it meant to them to reach the top and were overwhelmed by the sense of achievement after a year of preparation. For me it was a sense of achievement and relief that we had managed to achieve what we had set out to do and that it had clearly been such a worthwhile and powerful experience for all involved.

“The trek was a great adventure and the expedition as a whole was a powerful, rewarding and often humbling experience for all concerned. The voluntary work that we did involved working at a local monastery, where we met people who had been homeless, people with a range of disabilities, and worked alongside the monks and children in the gardens and helped with the irrigation.”

While in Ladakh, the team also learned first-hand about the harsh nature of life in the mountains.

“People spoke of the devastating floods that killed over 170 people last year,” said Carl.

“Many more were never found and the death toll is thought to be nearer 1,000. We could see clear evidence of the devastation caused by the floods last summer and felt for the local people, who are the kindest, most generous and genuine people you could ever wish to meet.

“Many of our students, hadn’t been out of Europe and spending time in Delhi en-route was also an eye opener and a humbling experience. I was impressed by the compassion shown by the students during our time in India and am so pleased that we did this expedition as the lessons learned and experiences gained will be taken on into the rest of their lives and will make a positive difference to how they view the world.”

A slideshow of the expedition can be seen on YouTube by searching for ‘NCCMC 2011 Himalayan Expedition’.

Carl and the team are also in the process of putting a video diary DVD together, featuring traditional Ladakhi music. This will also go onto YouTube under the title ‘Stok Kangri Expedition by Northumberland College’.